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Knock Knock Logic, December 7, 2009
Earl Grey relies on what I think is a pretty ingenious gimmick (which may or may not make up for any other shortcomings it has). The avatar in the game is given a magical bag that allows you to manipulate the words used to describe the world around you in one of two ways. You may either ‘KNOCK’ a letter out of a word, or ‘CAST’ a letter into a word.
For instance, if you are “Standing in the room with someone’s Aunt,” you could ‘KNOCK’ the last word in that sentence and suddenly you’d be “Standing in the room with someone’s ant.” The only restriction the game places on the player (presumably, there are a few missteps in the implementation) is that the resultant sentence must be grammatically correct.
This clever manipulation of the world is pretty exciting at first, but the game very quickly falls into drudgery when you realize how carefully every sentence is worded such that KNOCKing and CASTing opportunities are, in fact, limited to a single linear path of puzzles leading you from start to finish. The incredible freedom you might imagine with the power to change one letter in any description just doesn’t measure up to the implementation here. Often your avatar is shoved from featureless room to featureless room using one-way portals instead of doors so you end up with no spatial reference.
In the end, if a room has something in it, it’s going to be KNOCKed or CASTed eventually. The stranger the placement of the word in the sentence is also a good sign that something needs to be manipulated. You might think this would be a benefit to gameplay, however, the puzzles you are presented with sometimes require two or three separate KNOCKs and subsequent CASTings to solve and the intermediary steps often don’t appear to be taking you any closer to your goal.
Furthermore, there is a definite feeling that the puzzles were developed prior to the environment they were placed in, which explains why portals whisk you from place to place and that the flow of solutions doesn’t seem to follow logical sense. I’d think the most satisfying chain of puzzles would involve making a number of changes to a single sentence that get you closer and closer to your goal until they all add up to the solution. But Earl Grey doesn’t have many situations like that. In fact the only one I can think of that comes close was (Spoiler - click to show) when you saw a statue with a crown, and then continued to knock it until you ended up with a moon in the sky so you could turn the moon's 'luster' into a 'cluster' of rocks to stand on. Only that last bit will make sense and the rest is just playing around with anything the game lets you. Instead, if there are three sentences describing an area, there will be three changes to be made one to each of the sentences and ONLY in the order the game wants you to make them.
So, while the game has a brilliant idea here, it doesn’t succeed in fully exploring it, which disappoints. It does, however, have a very funny and charming commentary by the player character that appears after the command prompt after every effective action. It appears to be the stream of consciousness of the PC you’re controlling, and, if so, he’s a pretty sarcastic person and definitely witty. One action comes to mind is when you enter a room and see a large clock standing to one side. Naturally I tried to KNOCK the clock and, as a result, a large lock ends up standing to one side. The commentary at the bottom of the screens says: “Yeah, that could have gone one of two ways.”
So, my recommendation is to give it a try at least to experience this interesting gameplay mechanic, but keep the walkthrough handy for when the game goes off on a path that doesn’t immediately make sense.